Tigers trying to find a fit for prospect Isaac Paredes
His finishing act in the Mexican Winter League came during December’s final days while playing for Yaquis de Obregon, the team located a couple of hours drive from his hometown of Hermosillo, Mexico.
Isaac Paredes was about as torrid as the Sonoran sun during his closing 10 games: .333 batting average, a .512 on-base average, which paired with a slugging percentage of .533 made for a tidy OPS of 1.045 as he bid goodbye to a 45-game stint in which he overall had less fearsome numbers: .236, .378, .392, .770 OPS.
It should be noted the Mexican League isn’t the American League Central. Like all of baseball’s winter leagues, based largely in the Caribbean, competition isn’t what it once was as players making big money and wary of getting hurt tend now to spend offseasons at home.
A kid infield prospect rarely is making enough cash to be cavalier about bonus pay, but neither in Mexico is he facing quality pitching the winter leagues once featured and that once helped a youngster dress-rehearse for stiffer days ahead. Where Paredes grand finale for Obregon becomes interesting is when it's viewed against the backdrop of his 2018 season on the Tigers farm, not to mention the fact he does not turn 20 until next month.
This is where his place in the Tigers’ ongoing rebuild becomes tantalizingly clear.
Paredes last season hit 12 home runs in 84 games at Single A Lakeland before the Tigers decided, even if he were a teenager, it was time for Double A Erie where prospects first seriously sniff the distant scent of a big-league clubhouse. There he played 39 games, batted .321, and packed his saddle with a .406 on-base average that was part of an .864 OPS.
He has the offense to be a handsome piece in that Tigers Kid Corps headed for Comerica Park on or about Opening Day, 2020.
The key question: Where will he play?
Looks like third base
It was supposed to be shortstop, his natural position and the place at which he was working when the Tigers got him from the Cubs in July, 2016, as part of a trade that sent Justin Wilson and Alex Avila to Wrigley Field.
But there is this issue that is making shortstop less and less an option.
It’s his weight: 225 pounds. On a man listed at 5-foot-11, it doesn’t work when defensive range is deeply impacted by that excess flesh.
“I’d say overall, I don’t think we’ve quit on shortstop,” said Dave Littlefield, the Tigers vice president for player development, talking about Paredes’ eventual deployment. “Candidly, it will all be a function of how fit he is, athletically.
“To play shortstop you need to be trim and lean. It’s something he needs to work on. As young as he is, this issue of trimming down can happen at any time. I think maturity plays a big part in it. He’s so young, turning 20 in February. He’s still a young pup.”
Note that Paredes played 41 of his 45 games for Obregon at second base. He started only a handful of games at shortstop and on occasion helped at first base.
The Tigers still consider him a left-side infielder. They see another hotshot prospect, Kody Clemens, as their probable long-range second baseman. They also have Willi Castro and a potentially dazzling teen, Wenceel Perez, as better fits at shortstop, which could leave Paredes with one option: third base.
Jeimer Candelario is residing for now at third. But the possibility that he could shift next season to first base, with Miguel Cabrera working more regularly as designated hitter, has never been dismissed by the Tigers front office.
What is known is that Paredes — for now — is not headed for the outfield.
“Nothing in the outfield,” Littlefield said. “Shortstop or third base.”
His arm is rated as above average, whether from short or third, which is one more reason why the Tigers are resolute he’ll work the infield’s left side.
His bat will make him an easy choice at either spot, the Tigers believe, but especially so at short where his power could make him even more of a comparative offensive plus.
Good eye at the plate
What also pleased the Tigers about his time with Obregon was Paredes’ walk and strikeout ratios. In those 45 games he walked 28 times and whiffed only 23. Even against the Mexican League’s diluted pitching, the numbers were in line with a player whose career minor-league on-base average is .349, with 165 strikeouts in 297 games.
“He’s one of those guys who seems to see the ball early,” Littlefield said. “He’s got a pretty good eye, and when you combine that with some genuine hitting skills, it’s a nice combination.”
Meanwhile, the development staff coaches and counsels and cajoles. Paredes spent October at Lakeland, Florida, where the Tigers’ minor-league headquarters is situated and still gleams from a $40-million renovation unveiled two years ago.
There was weight-training and conditioning during Paredes' October visit. There were nutrition meetings and monitoring.
And still he checks in at 225.
Littlefield concedes a teenager married, with a child, and often dining at home can be more susceptible to lifelong eating ways. But the Tigers have impressed upon him that baseball can be for him a long and gainful career, especially if he maximizes his potential at the most critical position on the field: shortstop.
“Really, across the board, he’s got a lot of good things going,” Littlefield said. “His hands are really good.”
But none of that matters, at short or even at third, if his first-step quickness lags, and if his flexibility is marred by the extra 30 or 40 pounds the Tigers believe he’s carrying and must shed.
“Some guys need to work on strength,” Littlefield said. “This guy’s got to work harder on getting himself fit. He’s got real good God-given talent. He looks like a hitter to me.”